Computers can't have feelings
Computers are mechanisms, not organisms. Only living organisms can be said to have feelings. Therefore, computers can't have feelings.

Paul Ziff (1959).

Ziff makes a similar claim in the "Can Computers have emotions?" arguments on Map 1.

Robots are mechanisms, not organisms. Only living creatures can literally have feelings. Therefore, robots cannot have feelings.

The Ziff Argument

Ziff argued:

"Ex hypothesi robots are mechanisms, not organisms, not living creatures...Only living creatures can literally have feelings...The linguistic environment '...feels tired" is generally open only to expressions that refer to living creatures. Suppose you say "The robot feels tired.' The phrase 'the robot' refers to a mechanism. Then one can infer that what is in question is not a living creature. But from the utterance of the predicative expression '...feels tired' one can infer that what is in question is a living creature. So if you are speaking literally and you say "The robot feels tired" you imply a contradiction. Consequently, one cannot literally predicate '...feels tired' of 'the robot'" (Paul Ziff, 1959, p. 99).

Ziff is as directly and explicitly against the Turing claim as possible:

" robot will ever do anything a man can. And it doesn't matter how robots may be constructed or how complex and varied their movements and operations may be. Robots may calculate but they will not literally reason. Perhaps they will take things but they will not literally borrow them. They may kill but not literally murder. They may voice apologies but they will not literally make any. These are actions only a person can perform: ex hypothesi robots are not persons" (Paul Ziff, 1959, pp. 98-103).

The Tiredness example

Ziff supports these claims with the following argument:

"Could robots feel tired? Could a stone feel tired? Could the number 17 feel tired? It is clear that there is no reason to believe that 17 feels tired. But that doesn't prove anything. A man can feel tired and there may be nothing, there need be nothing at all, that shows it. And so with a robot or a stone or the number 17.

"Even so, the number 17 could not feel tired. And I say this not because or not simply because there are no reasons to suppose that 17 does feel tired but because there are good reasons not to suppose that 17 feels tired and good reasons not to suppose that 17 ever feels anything at all. Consequently it is necessary to consider whether there are any reasons for supposing that robots feel tired and whether there are good reasons for not supposing that robots ever feel anything at all" (Paul Ziff, 1959, p. 100).

He continues to spell out his reasons explicitly:

"If we say of a person that he feels tired, we generally do so not only on the basis of what we see then and there but on the basis of what we have seen elsewhere and on the basis of how what we have seen elsewhere ties in with what we see then and there" (Paul Ziff, 1959, p. 101).

He then provides another example:

"Suppose K is a robot. An ordinary man may see K and not knowing that K is a robot, the ordinary man may say 'K feels tired.' If I ask him what makes him think so, he may reply 'K worked all day digging ditches. Anyway, just look at K: if he doesn't look tired, who does?'

So K looks tired to the ordinary man. That doesn't prove anything. If I know K is a robot, K may not look tired to me. It is not what I see but what I know. Or it is not what I see then and there but what I have seen elsewhere. Where? In a robot psychology laboratory" (Paul Ziff, 1959, p. 101).


Ziff, Paul. 1959. The feelings of robots. Analysis 19(3), January 1959: 64-68.

Artificial Intelligence »Artificial Intelligence
Can computers think? [1] »Can computers think? [1]
No: computers can't be conscious [6] »No: computers can't be conscious [6]
Computers can't have feelings
No: computers can't have emotions »No: computers can't have emotions
Mechanisms can't possess consciousness »Mechanisms can't possess consciousness
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